Perceptions of Detroit Are Miles From Reality

By Warren Brown
Sunday, December 14, 2008

Perception is everything, or almost everything.

If anything is to be learned from Detroit's beg-fest on Capitol Hill, it's at least that much.

Perception influences reality.

Thus we have the General Motors "confession," its "commitment to the American people" published on the second page of the Dec. 8 edition of Automotive News, an industry trade journal. It presents an object lesson in perception versus reality.

Reality: The "confession" is a rehash of sins committed by a GM that existed 20 years ago, stupidities so enormous -- pathetic product quality, dismal marketing techniques, all trumped by corporate arrogance -- they opened the ports to foreign competition and paved the way for defections of generations of American consumers to Toyota, Nissan and Honda.

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Perception: It is that the GM of 20 years ago is the same GM today -- the same insular corporate culture, a Midwest car company wedded to the belief that the only good horsepower is more horsepower, a corporation unalterably opposed to even the most reasonable fuel economy and clean air regulations.

That is the GM and, by implication, the Detroit that Washington loves to hate -- the one whose corporate heads lawmakers were eager to decapitate when U.S. car executives came to Capitol Hill in recent weeks seeking billions of dollars in federal emergency loans.

Reality: That old GM disappeared in the early 1990s. It was replaced by a company that continued to make mistakes -- for example, initially establishing its Saturn group as a stand-alone company and wasting money on the horrid Pontiac Aztek crossover utility vehicle. But the new GM at least recognized its errors and moved with reasonable dispatch to correct them.

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Perception: GM has refused to undertake a needed, major restructuring.

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